Plenty of mistakes seemed like a good idea at one time, but some mistakes surpass expectations; they’re catastrophic, but they seemed like a fantastic idea at one time.
Case in point: the Most Wonderful Story doll.
Ben Michtom was the head of the Ideal Toy Company in 1957, when he made a trip to Rome and was granted an audience with Pope Pius VI. Michtom’s father had created the first teddy bear, and the company had grown beyond that huge initial success. The American businessman’s prominence was such that the Pope was interested in meeting him, and speaking to him about the value of wholesome toys for children.
Michtom, for his part, was deeply impressed by the Vatican and the Pope. He was struck with inspiration for a new toy, and he pitched the idea to Pope Pius. A doll of Jesus, to inspire children to learn about the life of Christ.
The Pope thought it was a wonderful idea. The fact that Michtom was Jewish only seemed more impressive, as he would be helping the religious development of people who held a differing faith. The Catholic church was prepared to give its blessing to the toys, provided they were manufactured to the standards normally held by Ideal.
They were. The dolls were suitably lifelike, and the infant Jesus came in a manger with plastic straw and had a pop-up book telling about his birth. Ideal thought it had a sure moneymaker on its hands, and the Catholic church was happy to encourage devotion. In 1958, The Most Wonderful Story dolls hit stores.
…and sat there.
Parents who weren’t Christian didn’t see much appeal to the doll, and parents who were Christian saw something else entirely. They saw the legless, armless, broken toys that had become of so many previous playthings of their children, and they didn’t relish the notion of having their kid pulling the limbs from baby Jesus.
The dolls sat on the shelves until retailers started to complain. The normal procedure when toys are overstocked is to discount… but few shopkeepers wanted to be the ones who had baby Jesus on markdown.
Ideal eventually instituted a return policy – not for all of its products, just the one doll – that reimbursed retailers for the dolls.
In case you’re curious, they may be rare examples of one of the worst toy failures in American history, but sixty years later, they’re still inexpensive and relatively unwanted even by novelty collectors.
Question of the night: Are there any prominent people with whom you’d like to spend an hour talking?